Texas AG Paxton slams attempt to block private schools from reopening as 'attack on religious freedom'

'There is no current statewide order prohibiting any school from opening in the Fall semester,' Paxton says

Texas county judge is perpetrating an unlawful attack on religious freedom by attempting to block private schools from reopening during the coronavirus pandemic, state Attorney General Ken Paxton said Thursday.

Paxton's criticism came as the law form First Liberty sent letters reminding Cameron County of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order -- as well as Paxton's guidance -- on coronavirus restrictions. First Liberty's clients, Calvary Christian School of Excellence and Laguna Madre Christian Academy, sought to reopen after purportedly coordinating measures to maintain students' safety.

“As I previously stated in my legal guidance in July, there is no current statewide order prohibiting any school from opening in the Fall semester," Paxton said in a statement provided to Fox News.

"The decision to open or close schools, both public and private, rightfully remains in the hands of school system leaders, not county judges. The judge’s order is unlawful, and constitutes an attack on our religious freedom."

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Earlier this month, Cameron County delayed private school instruction until Sept. 28, citing a recent spike in COVID-19 cases.

"Out of the 254 Counties in the State of Texas, Cameron County currently ranks eight in most positive COVID-19 cases, and sixth in most COVID-19 related deaths," officials said in a statement. "In Cameron Caounty, all area hospitals are operating at capacity and are unable to tolerate a spike and increase of COVID-19 related hospitalizations.

"As COVID-19 remains at an alarming rate and due to the continued increasing concerns of COVID-19, Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr. with the advice and consent of the Commissioners Court, will proceed with the established Order which is supported by the honorable Mayors of each municipality and the District Superintendents throughout the County."

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By Friday, the county had allowed Laguna Madre to reopen, but Calvary Christian appeared to be facing continuing restrictions. The county's legal team was deliberating regulations surrounding Calvary Christian as of Friday afternoon, according to Melissa Elizardi, a representative from the county judge's office.

“We are grateful that Cameron County officials recognize that Laguna Madre Christian Academy is able to begin meeting again safely," First Liberty Special Counsel Jeremy Dys told Fox News.  "We trust that officials will take similar action for our other client, Calvary Christian School of Excellence, recognizing the significant thought and planning that they have done to ensure the safety and health of their community as they also begin face-to-face instruction on September 8.”

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In July, Paxton specified that local school closure orders were invalid if they attempted to close a religious private school or institution.

"Under the Governor’s orders, local governments are prohibited from closing religious institutions or dictating mitigation strategies to those institutions," he said in published guidance. "Local governments are similarly prohibited from issuing blanket orders closing religious private schools. Because a local order closing a religious private school or institution is inconsistent with the Governor’s order, any local order is invalid to the extent it purports to do so."